Living in Costa Rica as an American: Everything You Need To Know  (2024)

Living in Costa Rica as an American: Everything You Need To Know (1)

According to the US State Department, around 50,000 Americans currently live in Costa Rica. Some came as digital nomads or expats, while others arrived as retirees to enjoy this tropical paradise. Do you too want to be one of these lucky people?

If so, keep reading as you will learn all the ins and outs of living in Costa Rica as an American.

US citizens living in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a favorite among Americans for moving abroad, whether they’re digital nomads, remote workers or retirees. The major reasons they relocate here are:

  • Proximity to the US
  • Safety and stability
  • Affordable cost of living
  • Good healthcare
  • English proficiency of locals
  • Good infrastructure
  • Convenient time zone
  • Warm climate and beaches

According to the World Economic Forum, Costa Rica is one of the world’s happiest countries. This is due to its beautiful beaches, picturesque rainforests, a stable democracy and an educated population.

Furthermore, the Costa Rica tourist scene is extremely well-developed. The country has been welcoming retirees and other expats for over 30 years. In fact, Costa Rica is one of the best countries at offering low costs for a high quality of living. And over time, the government has built an excellent infrastructure and environment for tourists and expats.

Lastly, Costa Rica has newly implemented a digital nomad visa that allows you to stay in the country for up to 12 months! Hence, it will become even more attractive for inspired digital nomads and remote workers everywhere.

Moving to Costa Rica from the US

Living in Costa Rica as an American: Everything You Need To Know (2)

Here are some logistics you should know before taking the leap of relocating to Costa Rica.

  1. Residence permit.

You’ll first need to consider your residence permit options for Costa Rica if you are planning to stay there long-term. To receive one, you must provide proof of the required income amount, or make a substantial deposit to a Costa Rican bank.

  1. Shipping options.

Make a plan well in advance for transporting your items. For example, will airplane baggage be enough to take everything you need with you? Also, Americans often ship their cars to Costa Rica. That might be something to consider too.

  1. Housing.

Finding accommodation in Costa Rica can be both easy and difficult for expats. It’s easy because all foreigners have the same rights as local residents when it comes to renting or buying a house. The difficult part is the competition with other expats for securing an accommodation.

Despite that last hurdle, there are plenty of housing options in Costa Rica, from high-end luxury villas to typical local houses. It’s best to determine your budget and start your search early, especially if you want to purchase property. Generally speaking, the average amount for rent is below $1,000 per month, and most properties for purchase start at around $100,000.

  1. Banks and taxes.

You must choose a Costa Rican bank for opening an account based on your financial needs. So look at different banking options and which ones make you comfortable.

When to move to Costa Rica?

The best time to go to Costa Rica is from mid-December to April (the dry season). This is also the peak season for tourists. The dry season however, is the most popular and expensive time to visit.

Working remotely from Costa Rica

Whether you plan to work as a freelancer, a business owner, or work for a foreign company, you can do all of this while living in Costa Rica. In fact, you can even work from the country as a tourist. US citizens can stay for up to 90 days in Costa Rica visa-free.

Expats can also continue working their remote jobs after receiving a residence permit in Costa Rica. As an added bonus, all of your foreign income is tax-free.

Working for a US company from Costa Rica

You can also work for a US company while living in Costa Rica, and the country’s digital nomad visa was conceptualized for this reason.

By holding the digital nomad visa, which remote workers are eligible for, you will avoid paying taxes in Costa Rica. However, you will continue to pay your taxes in the US.

Furthermore, expats who work for foreign companies don’t need a work permit in Costa Rica as long as their payments come from abroad.

Make sure you establish a proper agreement with your employer about working remotely from Costa Rica, as some companies might not authorize working from abroad.

Your employer shouldn’t be too concerned however if you gain a digital nomad visa for Costa Rica. That’s because the payroll structure remains the same, and you should receive a paycheck deposited into your US bank account with US tax withholdings. This will prevent any problems for yourself, as well as your employer.

Working in Costa Rica

If you are thinking about getting a job on Costa Rican soil, unfortunately there is some bad news. US citizens, as well as other foreign citizens, can’t legally work in Costa Rica unless they are permanent residents or have a work permit.

Most people who relocate to Costa Rica don’t rely on the local economy, hence they have substantial money in the bank, a pension, or some other steady income from outside.

Furthermore, Costa Rica places great emphasis on hiring local residents before foreigners. Unless there is no Costa Rican candidate for a position one pursues, getting a job in a local company is difficult. Nevertheless, many expats manage to find work at call centers, language schools, resorts, tour operations and even multinational corporations.

In general, foreigners must either be residents or have a valid permit in order to work in Costa Rica. The onus is on the employer to request and obtain work permits. They are also expected to pay all fees and handle all paperwork requirements.

That being said, working in this Central American country isn’t impossible. How? Consider becoming self-employed.

Open a business in Costa Rica

Opening a business is a major way some expats earn a living in Costa Rica without obtaining a work visa. This can be a viable option if you have significant capital.

Foreigners are permitted to own businesses in Costa Rica as long as they hire locals to work in their enterprises instead performing work themselves.

Despite this fact, it’s common for foreign owners to do most of the work and hire just a few locals for government checks. It’s particularly frequent among small businesses related to the travel industry, such as small hotels or cafes. But doing this can put you at a large risk of being deported if you get caught.

Paying taxes in Costa Rica

Paying taxes is another aspect of living in Costa Rica. If you obtain a digital nomad visa, you don’t have to worry about taxation at all.

Also, when making a living online, either as an employee or as a self-employed individual, you don’t need to worry about taxes. Only expats working on the ground in Costa Rica, whether it’s for local companies or working for themselves as business owners, will need to pay income taxes.

Generally speaking, you can make up to $1,460 in personal, monthly, tax-free income generated from wages or business activity.

From $1,460 to $2,144, personal income is set at 10%. The tax rate climbs to 15% from $2,145 to $3,761, and then to 20% from $3,762 to $7,521. Anything over $7,522 is subject to the highest rate, 25%.

Residency options in Costa Rica

Living in Costa Rica as an American: Everything You Need To Know (3)

As a US citizen, you can stay in Costa Rica for up to 90 days on a temporary tourist visa. Just keep in mind that extending your stay beyond the authorized 90 days as a tourist is time-consuming.

Extensions within the country can be handled by migration offices. Requirements for extensions often change, so apply several days before the expiry of the current visa.

If you’re thinking about settling down in Costa Rica long term, you need to consider the available resident permit options. You can actually apply for temporary residence first, and after three years with it, you can obtain permanent residency.

Border runs

‘Border runs’ are when you leave a country and then return in order to reset the number of days you’ve spent in the country. With Costa Rica, you can leave for 72 hours via land and then re-enter. In this case, you will be granted another 90 days to spend in Costa Rica. After reentering, you will get a new visa stamp with a new end date.

Pensionado (Pension visa)

This type of residency is suitable for retired expats who receive a certain amount in pension funds every month. Pensionado requires newcomers to prove a pension of at least $1,000 a month.

Rentista (Resident Visa)

The rentista program is perfect for expats who have substantial savings. They must prove having savings of 1,414,900 CRC ($2,500 USD) per month, and for a period of two years. Proof of a $60,000 deposit into a Costa Rican bank will work as well.

The money must come from unearned income such as savings, investments or real estate property. After proving the required amount, you will be able to take up freelance or remote work for foreign companies.

Temporary vs. permanent residency

Costa Rican residence permits are divided into temporary and permanent. One can only acquire a permanent residence permit by having a temporary residency for three years prior to that.

Permanent residency has benefits comparable with citizenship. You have all the rights of a citizen, except for voting, and you can legally work in Costa Rica.

Temporary residents can also own and run a business, but they must employ others to perform any labor. Both temporary and permanent residents must pay into the Costa Rica health care system called the Caja.

Costa Rica digital nomad visa

In addition to the already established residence permits, Costa Rica has implemented a digital nomad visa. The new law regarding this visa officially took effect on September 1st, 2021, allowing digital nomads to stay for up to 12 months in Costa Rica.

People from the following professional categories can apply for a digital nomad visa:

  • Online business owners
  • Remote workers
  • Teleworkers
  • Self-employed

Applicants will need to prove their income from foreign sources. After the digital nomad visa expires, you can extend it for one additional year. Furthermore, digital nomads can bring their families along to live and work in Costa Rica for at least a year.

With this visa, you can carry out job duties via telecommuting or remote working from Costa Rica for another foreign country.

Requirements for the Costa Rica digital nomad visa

The main requirement is to have a salary or a stable income from abroad.

Therefore, an individual must prove that they have been receiving:

  • a regular and stable salary, or have a fixed income
  • an average monthly income in the past year of at least $3,000 USD ($4,000 for a family), or the equivalent amount in another currency
  • private medical insurance for the entire duration of the stay in Costa Rica

Can a US citizen live permanently in Costa Rica?

Citizens of any country can become permanent residents in Costa Rica. In order to do this, they need to possess a temporary resident permit for at least three years. However, a first-degree relative to a Costa Rican can receive permanent residency faster.

Similar to the temporary residence visa, you must apply for permanent residency through the Department of Immigration.

Is Costa Rica safe for American expats?

Living in Costa Rica as an American: Everything You Need To Know (4)

Costa Rica is the safest Central American country. In fact, it ranks at 32 on the 2020 Global Peace Index’s ranking of 163 countries when it comes to overall level of ‘peace.’

​​Furthermore, Costa Rica is one of the most stable Latin American countries. With tourism contributing majorly to the country’s GDP, the government is focused on making the country accessible and comfortable for tourists.

Nevertheless, crime has been steadily on the rise, including violent crime that is mainly gang-related. That doesn’t have a major impact on expats and visitors though.

The Best places to live as a US citizen in Costa Rica


Tamarindo lies on the Pacific coast and is one of the best beach towns that you can find in Costa Rica.

Despite being small, Tamarindo has about 80 restaurants and a few other entertainment options. Furthermore, it’s one of the safest places in Latin America.

Everyone can find something for themselves in Tamarindo, from peaceful beaches to buzzing nightlife. Keep in mind however that it’s the most expensive city in Costa Rica and is comparable to some American cities in price.

Central Valley

Central Valley is a large piece of land in Costa Rica (more than a fifth), and it includes the capital San Jose.

Central Valley is a favorite amongst locals, which is why it is densely populated. In fact, about two-thirds of all people in Costa Rica are living in this area.

But living in the capital brings many benefits, such as:

  • museums
  • art galleries
  • sports
  • entertainment
  • shopping
  • big-box store
  • main airport

Furthermore, in Central Valley, you are just one hour away from the beach.

Here are other great places to live as an American expat in Costa Rica:

  • Grecia
  • Liberia
  • Limón
  • Tamarindo
  • Playas del Coco
  • Lake Arenal
  • Uvita

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Costa Rica?

The cost of living in Costa Rica is relatively cheap compared to the cost of living in the USA. Most expats in Costa Rica can live comfortably on $1,500 – $2,000 per month.

Overall, prices in Costa Rica are 26.6% lower than in the United States. Moreover, rent prices in Costa Rica are 60% lower compared to the US.

However, with the growing number of expats and digital nomads, the cost of living in Costa Rica has increased over the past decade. Nonetheless, for someone who is earning money abroad or has adequate savings, this won’t be too noticeable on the wallet.

For example, a monthly income of $1,500 to $2,500 will allow you to pay for a two or three-bedroom rental, eat out a couple of times a week, and splurge on something special once in a while.


Housing contributes to the most significant part of your monthly budget. According to Numbeo, the average rent per month for a one-bedroom apartment is $475 inside of a city center, and $384 outside of a city center.

Overall, rentals in Costa Rica start as low as $300 per month, and can go up to several thousands of dollars. Areas near the beach and in touristy areas cost the most. The cheapest houses can be found in the mountains and rural regions.

Furthermore, touristy towns can be exponentially more expensive than some of the smaller, local towns. Thus, opt for less touristy, but expat-friendly locations to save on unnecessary expenses.

Prices of groceries are comparable to North America, but fresh produce is very affordable at farmers’ markets.

Restaurants, except those serving local Costa Rican food, are about the same as North America.

Here are some total estimates for the cost of living for expats and digital nomads in Costa Rica:

Rent (a furnished, two-bedroom vs. one bedroom apartment)$800 / $450
Electricity (varies depending on A/C usage)$50
Mobile network$30
Healthcare (four $50 visits to a doctor per year for two people + monthly Caja payment)$150
Transportation (fuel/maintenance costs of owning a car)$130
Food/groceries (including alcohol)$400
Entertainment (dining out eight times a month, movies, concerts, etc)$250
Miscellaneous (unexpected expenses)$100
The monthly total for a couple:$2,150
The monthly total for one person:$1,125

Want to work remotely from Costa Rica?

Are you thinking about moving to this tropical paradise, but you don’t have a remote job? We are here to help. Our company, Support Adventure, hires talented people worldwide and enables them to work from anywhere thanks to fully remote positions.

If you have experience in IT, don’t wait and apply for a remote job with us! You can see our current open positions for remote IT support jobs here. Working with us will make your dream of living and working remotely from abroad come true!

Living in Costa Rica as an American: Everything You Need To Know  (2024)


What does an American need to live in Costa Rica? ›

To move to Costa Rica, you are required to apply for a Costa Rica visa. In addition, staying longer than 90 days requires applying for a residence permit, regardless of your nationality. If you want to move to Costa Rica for over three months, you can choose one of the following ways: Moving to work.

Can an American live comfortably in Costa Rica? ›

The cost of living in Costa Rica is relatively cheap compared to the cost of living in the USA. Most expats in Costa Rica can live comfortably on $1,500 – $2,000 per month.

Is it hard to live in Costa Rica as an American? ›

For starters, its healthcare system is one of the best in the world, surpassing even the nearby US. The cost of living is also low, and foreigners will not face any restrictions when trying to rent or buy a home. Where expats may face hardships, however, is in finding a job with a Costa Rican company.

What do I need to know before living in Costa Rica? ›

Costa Rica is considered the safest country in Latin America, but it's always wise to take certain precautions to protect your security. Make sure you have all appropriate vaccinations before moving to Costa Rica, and beware of petty crime and pickpockets in big cities and crowded areas.

Do US citizens pay income tax in Costa Rica? ›

Income taxes on individuals in Costa Rica are levied on local income irrespective of nationality and resident status. For individuals domiciled in Costa Rica, any income obtained within the boundaries of Costa Rica is considered as Costa Rican-source income and is taxable.

Do a lot of Americans retire in Costa Rica? ›

According to the U.S. Department of State, as many as 70,000 U.S. expatriates live in Costa Rica, many of them as retirees. That's because Costa Rica has one of the highest standards of living in Central America.

What is the average rent in Costa Rica? ›

What's the average rent in Costa Rica? Rent is very affordable in Costa Rica compared to the U.S. Numbeo reports that the average rent per month for a one-bedroom apartment in a city center is just $485. The average rent per month for a one-bedroom apartment outside of a city is $332.

What is the average cost of a house in Costa Rica? ›

The average cost of a house in Costa Rica can vary widely depending on location and amenities. For example, the typical cost of a house in the greater metropolitan area of San Jose is approximately $180,000 USD. In comparison, a home in the Central Pacific is closer to $230,000 (in 2022).

Where do most US citizens live in Costa Rica? ›

Many expats live around Playa Flamingo, Playa del Coco, Playa Tamarindo, and the Papagayo Peninsula. Each town here is as beautiful as the last. They have a small-town feel, but tourism is booming. Just to the west, you will find many national parks and nature reserves, and also the Arenal Volcano!

What are the cons of living in Costa Rica? ›

Cons of Living in Costa Rica
  • Undeveloped Roads. Many of the roads in Costa Rica do not have signs, lights, or guardrails. ...
  • Dangerous Local Driving. ...
  • Long Health and Government Wait Lines. ...
  • Rainy Season. ...
  • Slow Business Service (ex: Plumbers showing up late) ...
  • Slow Shipping. ...
  • Earthquakes. ...
  • Slow Public Transportation.

How hard is it to get a job in Costa Rica as an American? ›

If you want to know how to find a job in Costa Rica, you should be aware that it is difficult. Costa Rican law heavily favors employing residents over temporary expats, and foreigners may only take up employment once they have permanent residency. But do not let this stop you from pursuing your Costa Rican dream.

Can Americans buy property in Costa Rica? ›

The good news is, yes! The great part about Costa Rica is that foreigners and locals have the same ownership rights when it comes to buying property. Foreigners can buy property on a tourist visa without ever needing to apply for residency or citizenship.

Is healthcare good in Costa Rica? ›

The healthcare system in Costa Rica is frequently cited as one of the best in the world. The country is ranked 36th in the world by the World Health Organization, above the United States, Cuba, and New Zealand. Meanwhile, the United Nations places healthcare in Costa Rica within the top 20 in the world.

How much money do you need a month to live comfortably in Costa Rica? ›

Monthly costs for a single person living in Costa Rica fall between $1600 and $2000. In contrast, a retired couple can live comfortably on $2000 to $3000. The figure mentioned above includes all living costs, such as housing, transportation, healthcare, utilities, and food costs.

How much money do I need to live good in Costa Rica? ›

Cost of Living in Costa Rica: $1,100 to $4,000

This averages living costs across many months—you may spend more getting set up. An expat can average $1,100 per month on a tight budget, but even the most budget-conscious retirees and digital nomads will do best with a $2,000+ a month budget for a couple.

What is the income requirement to move to Costa Rica? ›

Recent changes give you a new option. In 2021, Costa Rica passed a new law to create a digital nomad visa. Moving to Costa Rica will therefore be much easier for remote workers. The digital nomad visa requires you have a stable income of US$3,000 per month, or US$5,000 if you have a spouse or family.

How do you qualify for residency in Costa Rica 2023? ›

Documents Needed:
  • Police certificate of good conduct from the last ten years.
  • Birth certificates are required for you, your spouse, and all dependent children up to 18 years old or up to 25 if a university student where proof of enrolment is required.
  • Income certificate.
  • Proof of divorce is not needed.

Can you own property in Costa Rica as a US citizen? ›

The good news is, yes! The great part about Costa Rica is that foreigners and locals have the same ownership rights when it comes to buying property. Foreigners can buy property on a tourist visa without ever needing to apply for residency or citizenship.

How long can you live in Costa Rica without being a citizen? ›

After 7 years living legally with a temporary or permanent residency visa, a foreigner may apply for citizenship by naturalization. Citizenship by naturalization gives the right to obtain the Costa Rican passport.

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